To hear what's to come for the show over the coming weeks and beyond, Digital Spy recently caught up with series producer Emma Smithwick for an exclusive interview.
Here, in the first part of the chat, Emma talks about the show in general, 'Stendan' and 'Stug', and the upcoming return of E4 spinoff Hollyoaks Later.
Part two of the interview, which contains more gossip and teasers about individual characters, can be found by clicking through the link at the bottom of the page.
How do you look back on your first year of producing Hollyoaks? Which areas of the show are you most proud of at the present time, and where do you think there is room for further improvement?
"This year has been hard work but I have worked with some of the most dedicated cast and crew in the business, and certainly have been delivering for arguably the most passionate fanbase, so it has been very rewarding.
"I am most proud of, I suppose, the community crossover in the show. When I watch it now, I like how lots of the characters cross in ways that they might not have before. It's a small village and so to reflect that in the everyday scenarios adds a little more reality and an unexpected dynamic to the show.
"I also think we have done new and interesting things with story - the Heist episode that went out recently was one where we took the risk of not showing the audience everything, relying on the imaginations of the viewers and taking them on a pretty convoluted journey to explain a complicated story. Sometimes I think we explain too much, so I was really pleased with the reaction to that.
"Of course, there is always room for improvement - a five-night-a-week show can never be complacent, and I try to read as much viewer feedback on the forums as possible. It's really useful as the Hollyoaks fanbase, on the whole, really understand drama and the mechanics of storytelling. I take as much constructive feedback as I can and feed it back into the show, and for the rest of it, well I just need to grow a thicker skin!"
Over the summer, we've seen a lot more story material for older and more established characters like Brendan, Cheryl, Carmel, Riley and Mitzeee, which has been welcomed by fans. Has there been a rethink over which characters should be at the forefront?
"When I started on the show, the younger characters were definitely at the centre of it, with a view to making the two student groups like family units - however, over the course of the year, the migration back to the established family units has been a natural one.
"The writers have never stopped wanting to tell big stories with those brilliant, well defined and well loved characters. I think that a good story is a good story - it doesn't matter if it's with the 16-year-olds, the 20-year-olds or characters like Jack and Frankie, it's just striking the balance which I hope we now have."
Hollyoaks has such a big cast, so there are always some fans who feel that their favourite characters aren't featuring enough! Do you think a smaller or more streamlined cast would work better?
"There has to be an optimum amount of cast members on Hollyoaks for the production schedule to work, so for us it's a case of working out which characters we definitely want to tell stories with all the time. A really good way of taking the temperature of that is in the writers' room. When writers start to run out of pitches for certain characters, or you can tell in the writing that the love for a character is waning, then I'll look at it.
"At the moment, though, it's story-dictated and as long as the story is really solid for characters, I want to keep them in. We're not going to be able to have everyone's favourite character on all of the time, but hopefully we'll see stories staying on screen for longer and there'll be more consistency."
Hollyoaks fans tend to get most excited about darker and grittier storylines, and we've seen some great feedback for the ones in the past year. Are you planning any more stories which will really push the boundaries?
"I feel the same way when it comes to darker storylines - there's just something about watching those stories which is so compelling. I was nervous about the union of the dark soul mates, Mercy and Browning, but their chemistry is so watchable - that story is pretty dark and won't end where you think it might end! (Editor's note - we haven't seen the last of Browning following his arrest.) Also, the 'Battle of the Brunettes' over Riley storyline is going to a pretty dark place.
"And as for Brendan Brady - he inhabits an unsavoury, shady world most of the time, so as you can imagine, Hollyoaks Later is going to be pretty hardcore this year. We're gearing up for that in the main show. Hollyoaks is a gift of a show in that for all the dark material, it can do lightness, too - it explores both in equal measure."
Will the guest appearances from music acts like Wretch 32, Maverick Sabre and Lethal Bizzle become a regular thing, or have they all come at once by coincidence?
"It just has to be story dependent so yes, I think it has been quite a coincidence as there aren't any plans for more. The Wretch 32 stunt serviced the Bart and Jason storyline really neatly, while continuing the big love storyline with Bart and Sinead. That was a really refreshing and innovative way to tell stories, so it worked well.
"With Maverick Sabre, again it needed to be big enough for Will and also to get to the core of the Savage family, so that also worked well for story whilst adding something different into the mix."
Are there any plans for notable returnees or visits from past characters?
"If I had my way, I'd be bringing handfuls of them back! As a fan, I get quite star struck when I meet them through other cast or at events. I do have plans for a few to return… I hate to be a spoil sport but I can't reveal who will be coming back, but by the end of the year, there will be lots to keep you talking!"
Hollyoaks does really well at keeping big story twists under wraps, as we saw with Lynsey's murder. At the same time, some fans would like more longer-term spoilers to be revealed like we see with the other soaps, so they know what to look forward to beyond the next week. Is this something you'd look at?
"We try to strike the right balance between both, and particularly because the Lynsey murder was such a good surprise. I really want to keep that element of surprise so the show is unpredictable - if you tune into Hollyoaks, you don't know what you're going to get. You can think you've read all of the spoilers, but then we're just going to throw you a massive curveball.
"So we're not necessarily going to follow every soap convention, but at the same time, there are lots of big stories where we'll keep the audience's interest by giving away spoilers when we think it's necessary."
You mentioned the new community feel in the show, which the fans also seem to have really enjoyed. Are there any firm plans for more scenes with the girls' book club and lads' group?
"I want to do lots more of that, and they're some of my favourite scenes. They don't necessarily move stories forward or develop characters hugely, but they're still very enjoyable to watch because the best-loved characters are all interacting with each other.
"It's something that I started pretty much from day one, and I plan to keep it going. There'll also be new friendships and new bonds between some of the older characters, which I'm quite excited about. Just seeing Martha and Diane cross at yoga made me so happy! I definitely want to do more."
Some of the teens seem to have bedded in since our last interview, but as a group, the sixth formers still receive more negativity than the other characters. Is this a concern?
"It was a concern, and perhaps these characters were introduced at a time where we were bringing in lots of new people. They came in with the Freshers, but they also came in at a time where we were reaching the big Silas storylines and the WAG wedding, so they probably weren't at a great advantage at that point.
"In hindsight, I think they could have been more defined and archetypal as characters - but I think that they are finding their way through now. The balance of characters works in their favour. There is some good, exciting stuff coming up where story takes them to unexpected places in the autumn."
Will there be any comeuppance for Maddie and more in the way of consequences when the teens behave badly, for example when Jono humiliated Ruby earlier in the year?
"I've had a Maddie at school, so often I watch her in the edit and I'm thinking, 'Damn you! You are such a bitch and are getting away with it!' I think everyone wants to see Maddie get her comeuppance.
"With Jono, again I would love him to have his comeuppance, as what he did with Ruby was wrong. However, Ruby allowed him to do it. I think it was quite a sweet love story for the two of them, in spite of Jono's protection of his rep at Ruby's expense. They had a bit of time where they were love-struck teens, but the beginning of their relationship was infuriating.
"Most of the time I wanted someone to shake Ruby and tell her to stop being so love blind, but she got there in the end. They are currently broken up, but Ruby will return and there will be more to that story…
"When it comes to Maddie, that's definitely a bigger and more serious storyline. She is such a bully, and it makes my blood boil when I watch it. Everyone seems to have been affected by some sort of bullying at some point, so there definitely will be a sense of justice. I feel particularly strongly about that."
The Freshers have proved popular, but haven't had much in the way of big storylines this year. Will that change moving forward?
"Yes, there are stories on the way for them. With the Freshers, again they came in at a difficult time - it was like a scattergun effect of lots of new characters. But I think what has transpired is they're all strong characters, people want to see them develop and they want more stories for them."
Will there be another influx of new sixth formers and HCC students in the autumn?
"If anything, we're downsizing, not extending! No new raft of sixth formers this year."
Storyline-wise, is there any hope for Ste and Brendan's future as a proper couple?
"Without giving too much away, I've always said that two things need to happen with Brendan before we'd even consider a Ste and Brendan reunion. First of all, Ste would have to stand up on his own two feet, be proud of who he is and not let Brendan take advantage of him yet again, which he's already done.
"The second thing is Brendan would have to understand what loving somebody means, so that's still to come. I was always hinting about, but could never reveal, the Lynsey death - that was going to affect him so massively, because she was like a surrogate sister to him and for him to believe that he had something to do with it, forced a moment of introspection. It made him ask himself what's really important in life. However, the fact that Brendan cares so much, might be his downfall… he has made himself vulnerable.
"There's definitely development ahead with Brendan and particularly in Hollyoaks Later, we're going to explore a bit more about him and why he is the way he is. But Ste also has a very successful and loving relationship with Doug, so we don't treat that lightly either. Brendan will always be the one that got away. Doug is in the here and now, and is such a positive and important force in Ste's life. Of course, Brendan is evolving - question is, can he become the man that Ste has always wanted him to be in time?"
Brendan fans have often said that they want to see him as a complex, three-dimensional character, rather than a 2D villain just causing trouble for Ste and Doug. Is this something you're bearing in mind?
"Absolutely. In one of my first weeks of producing, we had the Brendan and Ash story, which was about getting to the heart of who Brendan Brady is. That's still so important to me, and I certainly don't want a two-dimensional villain as Brendan is so complex. He is such a rich character worthy of in-depth exploration.
"With the scenes where Brendan was being irritating and agitating the Ste and Doug set-up, it was to show that while on one hand he's operating on the underbelly of society, he's also a man who has to watch his ex-boyfriend get with someone else. I love that Brendan Brady oscillates between the two all the time.
"Then you throw in the relationships with Cheryl and Declan, and it brings in other dimensions to him. And Joel - Brendan has this need to protect people. Regardless of what he says or thinks about himself, he has a big heart and, albeit misguided, a deep sense of old testament justice. Now that we've firmly established all those parts of his character, it's going to kick it into the next stage, which I'm really excited about…"
Given how vocal and passionate the 'Stendan' and 'Stug' fanbases are, how are you going to keep both happy?
"I've learned the hard way that it is impossible to keep everyone happy, nor indeed should a show try to keep everyone happy all of the time. I think if you got what you wanted all the time, you'd just get bored as a viewer.
"With 'Stendan' and 'Stug', all I'd say is that both sides are getting equal consideration when it comes to story. One isn't a device for the other one - they're two separate relationships which happen to have one common denominator in Ste. And Ste is the next character I'd like to explore in terms of who he is and what makes him tick."
PJ Brennan is one of Hollyoaks' strongest actors, but some fans felt Doug's gay storyline was too rushed, while others felt that his history with Bex was dismissed. Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
"I think what we definitely didn't do is dismiss the history with Bex. My first episode was the Doug special - I love the character and I love PJ, otherwise I wouldn't have wanted to bring him to the fore. When it came to Bex, what was really interesting was that when Doug was given the opportunity to go into the sunset with Bex in that episode, he didn't - Bex was always this unattainable girl and perhaps, on some level, that was the most attractive thing about her to Doug.
"In the writers' room, we spent a long time talking about how Doug had been a bit of a drifter all of his life with no purpose. He was almost invisible and in the background, so we wanted to give him a real purpose. When he started the business and established a friendship with Ste, everything fitted into place and made sense for him.
"The only thing I would have done differently is maybe given a bit more time for him to come out to his friends, but we've still got his parents to address, so the coming out storyline hasn't stopped. While working on the storyline, I spoke to a lot of friends and acquaintances who said that was what happened to them - it was as if their whole life made sense when they met one particular person. The label on their sexuality didn't define them - the love for that individual person did."
With Amy Barnes and the kids leaving recently, are Ste's roots being removed from the show? What does Amy's departure mean for Ste, and could we see her back?
"This ties in with us wanting to explore what makes Ste tick. It's often like Amy doesn't really care for herself and her own wellbeing - it's always for her kids or for Ste. We wondered what would happen to Ste if we took that support and that stability away from him, so it will give the opportunity to explore Ste a bit more.
"I love the character of Amy, but it was dictated by story that we needed to just remove a few things from Ste to see how he operates when he's not in an environment of stability."
Speaking of exits, was it always planned for Jodie to leave the way she did?
"It was always planned for Jodie to exit, because she was somebody who challenged both Dodger and Texas, but ultimately reaffirmed what they both liked about each other. They did a massive detour through Jodie, but it definitely wasn't a lesbian storyline - it was about Jodie being a girl who was pansexual - she liked who she liked, their gender was irrelevant.
"Jodie turned the heads of two characters who had previously been fairly comfortable with who they were and what they wanted. The main story is Texas and Dodger, so Jodie was always going to be in the show just for a little while."
What can you tell us about the new series of Hollyoaks Later?
"I'm really, really excited about Later this year. We started planning it quite a long time before its usual prep time, as we wanted to make sure that it was wholly rooted into the main show and that it took the characters to new levels without alienating them in the main show.
"This year is very much an exploration of the Bradys - what makes them who they are as individuals, but also as siblings. Add Joel and Walker into that mix and you get a whole host of material that you will not be able to miss! We now know what Walker is all about, and that man will do whatever it takes to bring down his nemesis. We also delve into their past, and we'll meet Nana Brady - Brendan and Cheryl's grandmother.
"The series also follows Mitzeee. She has been through one hell of an ordeal thanks to Mercedes. We pick up with her and follow her wild excursion to beat all wild excursions!
"We've done some on-location filming in Amsterdam featuring the sixth form boys, and again it's one of those stories that tackles light and shade in the same strand."
Will we ever meet Brendan's father?
"Let's just say that after Hollyoaks Later this year, there's no way that I couldn't bring in Brendan's dad! We have been talking about this man for over a year now, so I'm pretty sure that when Later airs, everyone will want to meet Papa Brady at some point.
"I'm also really fascinated by Cheryl and what it is that sets her and Brendan apart. She will forgive Brendan almost anything, but what happens when daddy dearest gets in the way? We have planned his arrival. You will get to meet him before the year is out!"
With Silas's storyline ending on a cliffhanger recently, are there any plans to bring him back again?
"I love Jeff Rawle - I think he's brilliant, if there was any way that I could have that man on set all the time, I would! However, being realistic, we can't!
"I've got no plans for a return at the moment, but the beauty of it now is that Silas is out there somewhere… I thought that the threat of him out there was stronger than him being locked away. You never know what could happen and when!"
> Don't forget to read the second part of this interview in Soap Scoop for more exclusive character teasers
Hollyoaks airs weeknights at 6.30pm on Channel 4, with first look screenings at 7pm on E4.